As a fan of Old West history and legends, visiting the grave of the famous outlaw and gunman Johnny Ringo has been something that I have wanted to check off my bucket list for quite some time. Unfortunately, the almost 4 hour drive (one-way) from where I live has been too hefty an undertaking for a single day trip. The remote nature of this location is not to be understated for many folks.
However, an opportunity had finally presented itself. I decided to camp for a couple nights at nearby Chiricahua National Monument at beautiful Bonita Canyon Campground, which is a short 30 minutes away from Ringo's final resting place. Finally, Ringo's grave was within reach!
On the morning of my departure from Chiricahua, I packed up my campsite and hit the road early, traversing through the dry grasslands common to Cochise County, until I reached a dirt road named Turkey Creek Road.
I was driving my wife's small Volkswagen Golf. Hardly the type of vehicle well-suited for driving off the beaten path, but others who have been before me have stated that the road is passable for just about any type of vehicle. With a little apprehension, I set off down the scenic dirt road in search of the allusive gravesite.
Turned out that this was one of the smoothest dirt roads I have ever driven on. I can now attest that this road is safe for just about any type of vehicle. No washboards to rattle our poor little car to pieces. The worst thing that happened is my wife's car needed a serious bath afterwards.
After driving a few miles down Turkey Creek Road, which by the way, is a beautiful drive in and of itself, I arrived at a small pull-off and saw the now familiar sign and gate that I had seen in many images on the internet. I had to take a quick moment to reflect that I had actually made it! I was actually here! All that remained was to go through the gate and take a quick stroll down a path, towards my destination.
After passing through the gate, there is a sign outlining a few simple rules for visitors to abide by. This site is on private property, but the owners are gracious enough to allow people to visit during set hours so long as you behave and do not loiter.
After walking a few feet in, I quickly recognized the gravesite mere feet away, marked by a historic plaque, a pile of rocks and small white headstone. It was a very serene scene, with the gravesite positioned in front of a pond. The water was absolutely still, with several deer grazing in a meadow on the other side. There was a perfect quiet in the soft early morning light. A thought immediately crossed my mind that when your time comes, this would be the ideal place to pass on through to the other side.
The historic plaque explains that Mr. Ringo was found dead at the base of a nearby oak tree, on July 14th, 1882, by what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his temple. I looked at some of the nearby trees, both alive and fallen, and pondered if one of those was the tree where he was found.
The story goes that Ringo had often publicly stated that he would eventually take his own life. In the days leading up to his death, he was seen out on the trail on his horse, very drunk, stubbornly enduring the heat of July in Arizona.
When he was found, he had no boots on, and instead had strips of cloth wrapping his feet. His horse was found a few miles away from where he allegedly took his life, leading one to believe that his horse may have gotten away from him.
Many today do not believe that Ringo took his own life. He was an outlaw, had murdered men, was a heavy drinker, and had a temper. To me, it does not seem unreasonable that others had plenty of motivation to kill Ringo, so I could see how some of these theories hold some weight.
However, even though the suicide explanation may not seem like a fitting end for a rough and tumble outlaw, I personally see how it is a very likely explanation. If Ringo did indeed make threats that he would one day end his life, and then ended up out in the middle of nowhere, drunk out of his mind, with his horse getting away from him... well, someone in that state of mind would certainly seem capable of taking that dark path.
Ringo was buried right where his body was found. Today there is a large pile of rocks where his body was laid to rest.
As I stood there thinking about all of these things, I realized that no one will ever truly know what happened. The only certainty is that on this windless, cool autumn morning, as I took in the entirety of the scene before me, I had an inexplicable feeling of peace. Only a few nameless trees and the surrounding landscape know the truth, and for me, that's good enough.